4-part series on California's Proposition 6 in 1978, authored by former state Senator John Briggs (R-Fullerton). The proposition, if passed, would have required California public schools to fire all gay and lesbian school teachers and and any school employee who supported gay rights. Despite early public support, Prop. 6 was overwhelmingly defeated, thanks in no small part to Briggs himself.
Sen. Briggs had wanted to run for governor but was hampered by lack of name recognition outside his conservative home base in Orange County. At the time, Anita Bryant had elevated her opposition to gay rights into a national cause. States were also grappling with US Supreme Court decisions declaring some death penalty statutes unconstitutional. As Briggs privately told me and at least one other reporter, Randy Shilts, he therefore came up with a plan to hitch himself to the two issues he thought would gain him easy publicity, if not support: banning gay school teachers and restoring the death penalty.
Briggs then wrote Prop. 6 and his death penalty initiative, Prop. 7. In the end, voters so thoroughly rejected Prop. 6 that Briggs was forever scorned and his statewide political future was never again even considered. Prop. 6's opponents, led by San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and San Francisco State University professor Sally Gearhart, devastated Briggs in debates, relentlessly tearing apart his logic and presenting voters with a clear insight into the proposal's inherent prejudice and discrimination. Prop. 7, however, faced no similar challenge and passed.